OK, so we know that the lights and excitement of using a computer can affect your kids' body chemistry and keep them awake longer than you'd like. But there is also a much simpler factor in play: Spending time on a computer can alter your kids' bedtimes, and irregular bedtimes can make it harder to sleep.
Kids today use media and electronics for longer periods of time than ever before. Unlike TV shows, which have a defined start and end point, computer use can go on indefinitely. And because computers can be used at any time of day, they're often used late into the evening and right before bed. As a parent, you've probably heard your kids plead for five more minutes of computer time before it's lights out, but going to sleep at a different time each night can really disturb your their sleep habits. A consistent bedtime every night will go a long way toward making sure your kids get the rest they need.
For the best chance at getting a good night's sleep, the National Sleep Foundation suggests avoiding exposure to bright lights at nighttime, and putting away the computer (or any electronic media) at least an hour before bedtime. Another tip, from the National Institutes of Health, is to take the computer out of the bedroom. If kids' brains are conditioned to expect stimulation when they're around the computer, keeping it in the place they're trying to sleep can be counterproductive.
Want to know more about kids and sleep? The links below might just lull you in.
- Albert, Katherine A. "Get a Good Night's Sleep." Simon and Schuster, New York, 1999.
- Dugdale, David C. "Sleeping Difficulty." Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, March 31, 2010. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003210.htm
- Gutnick, Aviva Lucas, Michael Robb, Lori Takeuchi, and Jennifer Kotler. "Always Connected: The New Digital Media Habits of Young Children." The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, March 2011. http://joanganzcooneycenter.org/upload_kits/jgcc_alwaysconnected.pdf
- Higuchi, Shigekazu, Yutaka Motohashi, Yang Liu, Mio Ahara, and Yoshihiro Kaneko. "Effects of VDT tasks with a bright display at night on melatonin, core temperature, heart rate, and sleepiness." Journal of Applied Physiology, January 2003. http://jap.physiology.org/content/94/5/1773.full?sid=6cde1c13-44a9-413e-974d-2e7eb5bcb877
- National Sleep Foundation. "Healthy Sleep Tips." http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/healthy-sleep-tips
- Shulman, Matthew. "Kids and Sleep: Why They Need More." U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 6, 2007. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/sleep/articles/2007/09/06/kids-and-sleep-they-need-more
- Thomée, Sara, Lotta Dellve, Annika Härenstam, and Mats Hagberg. "Perceived connections between information and communication technology use and mental symptoms among young adults - a qualitative study." BMC Public Health, 2010. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/10/66
- WebMD. "How Much Sleep Do Children Need?" Feb. 6, 2012. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children
- WebMD. "Nighttime Computer Users May Lose Sleep." June 19, 2003. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20030620/nighttime-computer-users-may-lose-sleep
- Zimmerman, Frederick J. "Children's Media Use and Sleep Problems: Issues and Unanswered Questions." Kaiser Family Foundation, June 2008. www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/7674.pdf